March 5, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the dislike of the anticipation felt on receiving or opening gifts?

I know this is perhaps a bit of an out-there question, but I'm looking for further information on people who dislike or even fear receiving or openings gifts. It's not the dislike of what the gifts are themselves, or strictly the fear of having to participate in a strained social situation when the gift turns out to be undesirable. I'm thinking of the specific idea of having this unknown 'thing' which causes anticipation, and those people who refuse to commit emotional energy to it.

Any ideas? Examples ranging from downplaying the opening of presents all the way to keeping them unopened for years would be great, as well as some explanation or even - holy grail of this question - a name.
posted by Sova to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I dread gift-receiving occasions, unordered deliveries, holiday celebrations. Why? My mother and her sister squabbled all year long about presents. My father ignored them, but I couldn't. I can give, but I still dread receiving.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:44 PM on March 5, 2009

Are they afraid of the unknown in general? Or only how it relates to gifts?

Could it relate to fear of attention? "Sociophobia"? Or fear of disappointing others?
posted by cranberrymonger at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2009

Response by poster: Are they afraid of the unknown in general? Or only how it relates to gifts?

Gifts is where this is most evident, if it exists elsewhere at all. There is also somewhat of a delaying/downplaying when buying gifts.

I don't know if this is trauma-induced or what, but I would like to at least find out about others.
posted by Sova at 3:04 PM on March 5, 2009

I think you're being far too specific. It's like asking "Is there a word for the rivet at the left side of the hip on jeans made in Somalia?". English doesn't have infinite words (unlike German)- we use phrases for these things.

How about "gift receiving dread" or "fear of gift receiving"
posted by phrakture at 3:08 PM on March 5, 2009

If you want an alliteration, try "gift guilt."
posted by jbb7 at 3:25 PM on March 5, 2009

I have the same thing, except with birthday/x-mas/whatever cards. If someone mails me a card, I will never open it. I don't have any particular trauma associated with it, I just kind of don't like cards.

I'm not a therapist, but I'd be tempted to call this sort of thing "anxiety" - not the kind that gives you full-blown panic attacks, but just leaves you feeling off and tense and otherwise put out.
posted by logicpunk at 3:26 PM on March 5, 2009

I, similarly, dread recieving gifts in public. I can attribute it to uncomfortable childhood experiences and a narcissitic family system. I enjoy giving other people gifts but I don't at all enjoy the process of opening gifts in a group or with an audience.

I never thought of finding a name for it but when I read your question I looked at bunch phobia lists. I found some really strange phobias, like: Consecotaleophobia- Fear of chopsticks; Dextrophobia- Fear of objects at the right side of the body; and Geniophobia- Fear of chins. (via )

This is closest I could find to being afraid of or avoiding recieving gifts: Cainophobia or Cainotophobia- Fear of newness, novelty; or Cenophobia or Centophobia- Fear of new things or ideas.

You'd think that if they can give a name to somebody's fear of chopsticks then there would probably be a name for the fear of recieving or giving gifts. I can't find it though.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:34 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

hmmm... thought I was linking correctly above. That (via) should link to: Sorry.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:37 PM on March 5, 2009

I have a family member that sounds like this.

She hates getting gifts because it puts her at the center of attention. She realizes that people are going to be watching her and her reactions. So she feels like she is being placed under a microscope. She's uncomfortable in her own skin, so she does not like the attention being directed at her at fears that she is Doing It Wrong.

She has the same reaction to giving gifts, but less so because then she is under the microscope as the giver instead of the receiver.

So I guess for her it is the same fear as someone who doesn't want to be a public speaker or be out in front in social settings... whatever that anxiety is called.
posted by dios at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2009

Erm, are you implying that the same anxiety in showing an emotional involvement in the situation exists even in complete privacy? That if it is just you and the gift it exists?
posted by dios at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2009

My father and I are both like this. My dad will NOT open a gift, maybe ever, unless you pretty much force it into his hands and stare at him til he does. Then he pops the gift back into the crumply paper, tucks the whole thing under his chair (like hiding it from himself), gives an awkward thank you with no eye contact, and changes the subject. He'd never explore the gift (leaf through a book, try on a shirt, etc)- it's like he wants it out of sight immediately, and then forgets it ever happened.. It kind of sucks to give him a gift, actually, because it feels like he doesn't like anything.

I'm not quite like that, but I do find receiving gifts embarrassing and a little stressful. I force myself to hide it and act natural & excited, figuring that my issues shouldn't take away someone else's pleasure in choosing me a thoughtful gift and watching me enjoy it. I'm kind of the same way about sincere and verbose compliments from people I don't know that well- my first instinct is to wave them away and change the subject.

Where did this come from? Personally, when I was little, some desperately-hoped-for gifts did not materialize, or people gave me a pale substitute for what I wanted (equivalent to asking for a pink ballet dress and receiving hand-me-down boys' overalls instead), so maybe I learned that gifts are the funnest just before they're opened, when I can imagine that they're perfect and how they might make me feel, rather than be disappointed. My dad had a pretty austere childhood and probably not many gifts, and I bet the gifts he did get were never the dream pony he'd always wanted, so maybe that's the genesis of his weirdness, too.

I have no name for it, but awkward, dread, nervousness, anxiety, bashfulness, minimization, and embarrassment sort of all fit.

How to cure it? I don't know how to do it by myself, but my own gift-dread is diminishing, since in recent years, I've somehow befriended some people who really know how to give gifts! Time and time again, they show up with absolutely knockout gifts. Thoughtfully-chosen, useful, luxurious- not always pricey, either- sometimes just so lovingly mindful and very carefully customized to me. Things that they chose or created with real love and specificity. These gifts turn out to be so good I didn't even know I'd always wanted them. Knowing that a gift can give me that feeling- make me feel understood, appreciated, splurged-on, loved, and thought-of? That's new to me, and I'm starting to look forward to gifts muuuch more since meeting those people. Lucky me, and it's revolutionized the way I buy gifts, too. I put in a lot more effort and care than I used to, and often custom-make things, because I want my friends to feel as special as they make me feel. May this joy one day be yours as well!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Erm, are you implying that the same anxiety in showing an emotional involvement in the situation exists even in complete privacy? That if it is just you and the gift it exists?

Yes, for example a gift as a leaving present from a person whom you're never going to see again.
posted by Sova at 3:56 PM on March 5, 2009

Oh, well I don't know what it might mean if you divorce it from the social context.

The only thing I could guess is some sort of insecurity about not deserving a gift period or maybe some sort of variant of prospective buyer's remose (receiver's remorse?).
posted by dios at 4:03 PM on March 5, 2009

I hated receiving gifts as a kid, because I feared the giver would be sad if I wasn't happy enough about receiving it. I already had issues with disappointing people, so gift-giving was just a heightened version of that. I would definitely describe it as a combination of insecurity and guilt, with some inadequacy thrown in (as in, "I don't deserve this gift!")

I can see why you'd want to name it.
posted by davejay at 4:56 PM on March 5, 2009

I, too, hated receiving gifts as a kid, for the same reasons as davejay. I remember in particular my 9th birthday. For months I had been captivated by the idea of having a rock tumbler and making shiny, pretty rocks of my very own. I had the idea that it was very expensive, and at the time we were sleeping on mattresses stolen at night from the Goodwill dropoff and counting out coins to buy food, so I was shocked to receive one as a present. A couple of hours later my mom found me sobbing on my mattress, in agony because I didn't love it to an extent commensurate with the sacrifice it represented.

I still struggle with it. My wedding shower was a nightmare because I knew I was going to receive all kinds of stuff that I didn't want (and also made the mistake of clumsily trying to explain my dread to my prospective mother-in-law, which got us off on rather a bad foot). My husband has frequently given me expensive gifts that I didn't love enough considering what they cost. Some I kept and some I made him take back, and I feel a lot better about the ones that got returned, but there is no good solution. Well, maybe if people would only give me modest gifts that I absolutely adore.

I also find buying gifts for others to be a gut-wrenching ordeal. Nothing is ever good enough, I know they won't like it, or I put off buying it until it's too late and then feel bad about that. I just hate the whole mess.

This post makes me sound like a nut.
posted by HotToddy at 5:13 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I call it "anticipatory gift anxiety." Like several others here, getting gifts is not my thing. I have mixed feelings of dread, anxiety, guilt and annoyance over occasions on which I have to suppress what I really feel in favor of a socially acceptable script ("I love it! It's perfect! Thank you so much!"), and to do so while being the focus of attention (wearing the right face, projecting the right enthusiasm) and while making absolutely sure that the *real* focus of the moment is on the *gift-giver's* feelings.

I'll take a side of over-thought beans with that, thanks.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:33 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a family member who's like some others mentioned here - she hates to be the center of attention when receiving gifts. I can sort of see where that comes from - as soon as you have that first inkling of "what kind of reaction is this person expecting?", you can easily slip into that self-conscious mode. From then on it's like trying to "act natural". I don't think that has a special name other than run-of-the-mill social anxiety or self-consciousness.

I've also had an experience like HotToddy's rock tumbler. When I was a kid, I got a beautiful old single-speed bike for my birthday from my doting grandma. I can't imagine what she spent on it or how hard it was to track down. To make things worse, I had admired a similar bike not long before. In the end, I didn't really like it, and I ended up never using it because the guilt I felt when I did think of using it was too much to bear. I still feel bad about it.

Anyway, I think the latter is closer to what you're looking for. I felt anxious not because of what the giver or anyone else would think, but because I felt like I didn't appreciate the gift enough to deserve to have it. It seems like a special case of the normal "I'm not worthy" guilt.
posted by pocams at 7:41 PM on March 5, 2009

I've always just talked about "the present you never open" as a way of sort of explaining that "oh my gosh maybe it's the thing I really really wanted" combined with the "it's probably a lousy version of the thing I really wanted bought by someone who doesn't understand my tastes who is going to be bitchy with me for not loving it and then hassle me all the time about where the thing is they got me long after I've given it away" feeling. So you feel the good and the bad at once, just looking at the damned box and no matter what happens, it's a mess.

This isn't totally how I feel, but I have a weird space in my heart for historical gift giving and receiving occasions that went absolutely terribly wrong and now I just try to avoid them. Literally I do not do Christmas stuff except when it's required and I give books for holidays and I never go to baby showers. I don't bring gifts to weddings and if that makes me a terrible person, I'll own it.

My sister is a good comrade in my irrationality because not only does she give great gifts [and she is somehow easy to get great gifts for or is just awesomely gracious or I don't know what] she's a good sounding board for the terrible gifts we get from our parents [something well-meaning but off from my mom, "what do you want from this year?" from my dad] and so she is a place where I can sort of vent about gift stuff and then sort of soldier through the rest of the gift giving season.

So, I do not know a better name for the thing, but I do understand what you are talking about.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 PM on March 5, 2009

What do you expect of people when you give them a gift? Do you think about it so much?
posted by thylacine at 10:19 PM on March 5, 2009

The word is "dread", as the first poster said.

Hey, I'm a poet and I didn't even know it!
posted by telstar at 12:42 AM on March 6, 2009

I'm not sure if there is a clinical name for this, but if so, I would self-diagnose myself as having it. Even as a kid I always absolutely *dreaded* the coming of a birthday, Christmas, etc. because it meant having to receive and open gifts in front of an audience. Even if the audience was only one person, I would become seriously anxious with the very thought of gift-receiving.

Something about all of the expectation behind the act of giving/receiving gifts is unsettling to me.

really interesting post.
posted by bacall423 at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2009

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